BOSTON – Isaiah Thomas tried so hard to put on a brave face, to tell the dozens of media folks surrounding him thattonight’s game against Cleveland isn’t anything more than just another game on the Celtics’ 82-game docket.
“It’s the next game so it’s the biggest one,” said Thomas, who then grinned, “that’s all I can say.”
OK, fourth quarter killer!
We get it.
We’ll say it for you.
Tonight’s game against the defending NBA champion Cavaliers won’t make or break the Celtics’ season.
But the Celtics are a team with deep playoff run ambitions, so how they perform tonight could go a long way towards them getting a better feel for where they are and just as important, what they have to do to get better and become an elite power in the NBA like the Cavs.
Boston (19-13) comes in having won six of its last seven games which includes a pair of wins over the always-tough Memphis Grizzlies while Cleveland has won five of its last seven games.
Currently with the third-best record in the East, this will be the Celtics’ first crack at one of the top-two teams in the East (Toronto is the other) with a healthy roster.
But when it comes to their place among the Eastern Conference’s top teams, that’s something head coach Brad Stevens says he doesn’t give any thought to.
“I’m not even thinking about any other team,” Stevens said. “We’re just trying to be the best version of ourselves. Obviously, the Cavs have been the cream of the crop in the East; continue to be.”
The Cavs (23-7) have the best record in the Eastern Conference, leading the Toronto Raptors (22-8) by one game.
And they’ve done it by occasionally resting key players such as LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love when head coach (and former Celtics assistant coach) Tyronn Lue deems it necessary.
“We don’t care about what they’re doing and I know they don’t care what we’re doing,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We’re just trying to focus on us, getting better each and every day.”
The Celtics have done that of late with wins in six of their last seven games.
And the optimism that things will only get better is fueled by the fact that the Celtics are healthy from top to bottom, coupled with core guys having now had a decent amount of games played together which has done wonders for the team’s overall chemistry.
When Cleveland beat Boston 128-122 on November 3, the Celtics did not have Al Horford (concussion) or Jae Crowder (ankle sprain) in the lineup.
Needless to say, Boston feels better about its chances of pulling off an upset this time around.
“I think we’ll match up pretty good,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told reporters on Wednesday.
Celtics big man Al Horford echoed similar sentiments.
“It will definitely be good for us to play against probably the best team in the league right now,” Horford said. “Just be good for us to get out there and play. Now we're healthy … that's encouraging. It will be good for us.”
Said Isaiah Thomas: “With a healthy squad, we’re a pretty good team.”
And this should be a pretty good game between two of the Eastern Conference’s better teams.
“We all know the challenges they present us,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “This is going to be a great game; we have to be solid. We have to be able to execute, cut down our turnovers … can’t let them get easy buckets. Really just stay solid and play half-court with those guys.”
The game plan that Smart speaks of isn’t all that different than it would be for most of the Celtics opponents which to some degree makes this just another game, right?
Of course (wink-wink).
It’s just another game.